Almanac music: We’re back baby, we’re back (*while acknowledging that COVID is still rampant in the community)

 

In May last year I attended my first concert since before the pandemic knocked us sideways. US rock band, The Hold Steady at the Croc. I nearly wasn’t gunna go but then I came down with the Virus in early May, recovered and I knew I could attend a huge event without succumbing to the ‘Rona so quickly again. It was a top night even though back then my caution was heightened. So, it wasn’t like I was carefree enough to go wild. Not like back in the days before the contagion stopped the world and her husband in their tracks.

 

Later in the year we started to get out a bit more, seeing a few local acts as well as venturing out to big shows, including UK punk rockers IDLES at the Forum and possibly the best hip-hop act in the world, Kendrick Lamar at Rod Laver. And we started to book shows for 23. While COVID is still a significant health risk being at live gigs is soul affirming.

 

While I hardly claim to have seen a shit-ton of live shows over the last few months, I was fortunate to have a mini-run between 11 and 21 January. This is how it all went down. We attended 4 different shows at 4 different venues and saw 12 or more acts strut their best. Some got there, others, not so much.

 

We were at Memo on 11 January to see the John Prine Tribute show. My first time there. Loved the venue. St Kilda was pumping making us northern suburb lads a little envious. Until our first joint. Then we were at peace with all the bright young things glittering like the stars they are.

 

The JP tribute was weighed down by its main performer, Mike McClellan, an Aussie folk singer from the 70s. He lacked the necessary ‘voice’ and a lead singer’s charisma. Rather, he cited information about John Prine as if he was giving a 10am lecture at a local library. If you are even halfway familiar with John Prine you would know that he is as idiosyncratic a singer/performer as you will get. With a wicked wit, mercurial mind and whimsical disposition. Dylan said of John Prine’s writing, that it was ‘pure Proustian existentialism’.

 

So we laboured on, because hearing John Prine songs live is a delight anyway, and the other performers, while not given as many songs more than made up for Mike. Lachlan Bryan and his band were pretty good and didn’t attempt to over-embellish Prine’s tunes. However, Suzannah Espie, the other main singer, saved the show. She’s a diamond. Her version of Angel of Montgomery was worth the price of admission. Staggeringly heartfelt and beautifully sung.

 

Saturday saw us at the Mornington Racecourse for the first Red Hot Summer show of 2023. Over 5000 of us braved the scorching heat, with the temperature reaching 55 degrees (or that’s what it felt like). The day was fantastic. We settled under an enormous something or other tree that shaded us and 100s more for most of the afternoon. As the sun moved westward across the sky (yes, I know it’s the earth rotating, I leaned about that from The Flaming Lips song) we did get hit hard and hot for at least two hours before the sun bowed and exited stage left.

 

We were there for Paul Kelly who came on in the evening. Before PK we got to see Troy Cassar-Daley and Ian Moss (excellent, I’m a dyed in the wool TCD fan and he sang ‘Shadows on the Hill’ about an Aboriginal massacre which fairly moved me), Vika and Linda (excellent as always), Mark Seymour (pretty good), Missy Higgins (really good except for her Triffids cover) and Bernard Fanning (yawn).

 

PK was dynamite. He kicked off with Leaps and Bounds then straight into ‘Before Too Long’. Yep, he knows his audience and his audience had been on the beers in the hot sun for hours. He held the audience in the palm of his hand for 90 minutes, with well-known and lesser known tunes (Northern Rivers). Before he got stuck into ‘Bradman’ he told the crowd, this is a song about cricket and it goes for 8 minutes so if you’re not a cricket fan this is a good chance to go get a refreshment! His band, as usual and with Ash Naylor turning guitar string sounds into gold, was on fire. Jess Hitchcock’s backup vocals were sublime.

 

Thursday last week, we ventured out to Max Watts (the old Hi-Fi bar) to a UK Clash cover, I mean tribute band conveniently called London Calling. They were shithouse and we still had a great night. So many problems in their act, at the heart of it was the drummer’s drumming. He was to put it kindly a tub thumper. He managed to extract the groove from songs like ‘Train in Vain’, and ‘Stay Free’ and songs like ‘Police & Thieves’, ‘Pressure Drop’ and ‘Police on My Back’ were dereggaefied.

 

At one point the lead singer who kinda almost looked in passing like Strummer (and we’re pretty sure it’s his business I mean band) while singing ‘The Clampdown’ added a bit of a chat. He started with, I’m not that political. Which I believe is the antithesis of Joe Strummer, who he was purportedly emulating.

My OMG moment, well one of them, was during ‘The Magnificent Seven’, a particularly cringeworthy attempt. What it lacked in feel and tune it made up for in a whack whack beat, sped up. There are so many great lines and throwaways in ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (‘Plato the Greek or Rin Tin Tin/Who’s more famous to the billion millions’) that they managed to make indecipherable but surely fans have the right to expect the lead singer to emphasise Cheeesboiger! when it gets to that line. Hell I have for 40+ years. Occasionally they hit or kinda hit the mark like on their meat and potatoes rock version of ‘Rudie’. Mostly they turned rebellion into money.

 

To round out our run of shows we headed to Kindred Studios in Yarraville on Saturday last to see our local faves, The Cartridge Family. This was a Saturday afternoon gig and our first time at this hidden treasure. Sarah Carroll, Suzannah Espie and Footy Almanac alumni Rusty Rich are the core of this terrific country ensemble who play, as they describe it, ‘sunshine-filled hillbilly songs of death and despair’. They played old favourites like ‘Hipster Bogan’ and ‘Run Chicken Run’, joking it up, especially on ‘Beerijuana’ (it is exactly what you think it is) then segue into more reflective songs like ‘If You Don’t Like My Peaches’. Their three part harmonies strengthen and carry songs beautifully. They also threw in a few new songs suggesting a new album might be a’comin. We like what we heard especially ‘The School of Country Music’ and not just because it is set in my hometown of Drouin. Do yerself a favour and check the Cartridge Family out.

 

It has been great to hear live music regularly again. Really uplifting. 2023 is looking the goods. We have local country cover band, No Sleep Till Texas pencilled in for early February, UK rap poet Kae Tempest at The Forum later in February and the twice or thrice postponed Billy Bragg show in March. We would have headed to Port Fairy Folk Festival for the first time since 2019 but we have opted for Koh Samui instead. Onya.

 

 

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About Rick Kane

Up in the mornin', out on the job Work like the devil for my pay But that lucky old sun has nothin' to do But roll around Heaven all day

Comments

  1. Mark ‘Swish’ Schwerdt says

    I’ll be returning from a very long spell for Billy Bragg, nights 1 and 2 – see you there Rick.

  2. Les Everett says

    Nice Rick

    Even i’m venturing out, but not far.

    I’ve got tickets to Road Band (50 year anniversary) at Clancy’s Freo & Stephen Pigram – Duke Of George East Freo..

    And I saw Kutcha Edwards at the Duke too… great

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